Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
E-mail this article
Print this Article

The Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative has signed an agreement with a Colorado company to build a second solar farm in Charles County twice the size of the facility built by the co-op in Hughesville in 2012.

Per the 20-year agreement, SMECO will be the sole purchaser of power generated by the 10-megawatt facility, which will be designed, constructed, operated and owned by juwi solar Inc., a company based in Boulder, Colo., that has built large-scale projects across the country.

Tentatively dubbed “Rockfish Solar,” the solar farm will be located on an 80-acre former surface mine off of Renner Road in Waldorf, feature 41,000 solar panels and is expected to generate enough energy to power 1,300 homes.

The arrays will employ single-axis tracking technology that enable the panels to track the sun from east to west in order to maximize efficiency, JSI senior project planner Megan Day said.

The facility could be completed and online by as soon as the end of this year, depending on how long the local permitting process takes, Day said.

The project could generate between 80 to 110 jobs during peak construction, she said.

“If we’re able to do it by the end of the year, we’re really going to load up on labor to get it done quickly,” Day said.

Day and SMECO spokesman Tom Dennison declined to disclose the cost of the project, but Charles County Commissioner Ken Robinson (D), a major proponent of renewable energy, wrote on his Facebook page Wednesday that the project represents a $40 million investment.

The facility will be roughly twice the size of the co-op’s 5.5-megawatt farm in Hughesville, which covers 33 acres of historic farmland, features nearly 24,000 solar panels, produces enough energy to power 600 homes and costs $20 million.

“This is one the most exciting projects that’s happened in the county in a very long time. It’s a commitment by SMECO toward a sustainable future,” Robinson said. “I’m also really pleased with the site because it is a former gravel mine, so I can’t think of a better way to reclaim the land then to do it this way. But in addition to the obvious benefits to renewable energy, this is also a major economic development project for the county. It’s going to bring in $40 million, and it’s going to happen fast.”

State law requires that utilities purchase 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2022. Two percent must come from solar energy produced in Maryland.

SMECO expects the two solar facilities to meet its requirements until 2017, Dennison said.

“I think it’s a great step forward for Southern Maryland and our customer-members that in the past two to three years we’ve brought commercial solar facilities into our service territory, and it’s significant in that we’re continuing to meet our requirements in the most cost-effective way possible,” he said. “We’re looking forward to an expedited approval process and hope to get construction started soon.”

The co-op received 30 bids for solar projects within its service territory and determined JSI’s proposal was “the most cost-effective and made the most sense for our customer-members,” Dennison said.

“Our customer-members will be glad to know that the cost of the energy provided by this solar project is very reasonable and will have a positive effect on customer rates,” SMECO President and CEO Austin J. Slater Jr. said in a statement.

The project is the fourth facilitated by the National Renewables Cooperative Organization for SMECO — SMECO also purchases wind power from two facilities in Western Pennsylvania.

Robinson, who has a wind turbine on his own Swan Point property, commended SMECO “for being such visionaries when it comes to the mandate that’s come down in terms of getting a certain percentage of their power coming from renewables because they did not have to do it this way.

“There’s ways of purchasing renewable power from other states, and SMECO has now for the second time committed to doing it themselves,” he said.

Robinson said the county is using SMECO’s success with solar energy as a model in looking at county buildings that could potentially be retrofitted with solar panels.

“I think we are seeing Charles County become a beacon for renewable energy in the state,” he said. “It’s a boon for the region. It’s great for the county, but it’s also great for Southern Maryland.”